rental backyard: new old deck (part 3)

new deck from old wood, side view (iPhone photo)

After he'd set and leveled the pier blocks into place, he built a frame out of used two-by-sixes and then framed in a set of pallets, which looked something like a big waffle. Then he screwed on top of the frame long pieces of old reclaimed one-by-four-inch barn wood about eight-feet long, overlapped in the middle. Towards the end, he ran out of wood in that size and had to mill down some of the wider pieces, as well as cutting to size the fascia (facing or edging) boards.

reclaimed-wood deck built on secondhand shipping pallets & used pier blocks (iPhone photo)

These iPhone photos are the cleanest shots of the deck, right after sweeping, because soon after, the deck looked more like this:

discounted hostas & sale ferns awaiting planting

new deck platform

new old deck

According to Jeff, he was building the deck for little-ol'-cancer-patient me as a place to relax and heal. But by the time he placed his three (!) grills on one end and his round vintage metal-and-glass dining table set on the other, there was going to be no room for me on the deck. We actually fought for a couple of days over this, with him huffing that what I really wanted was "a yoga studio"—and he wasn't far off. I'm an introvert, so for me the best, most frequented use of the deck would mean a couple of comfortable lounge chairs for reading and a long hammock tied between the tree and the house, with his grills sitting off over by the fence out of sight the way.

hand-built deck

next year's potted Christmas tree

But I know my extroverted friend is happiest when he's cooking for friends and family. So I convinced him instead to build a big long table and benches out of the extra deck wood, which will be able to fit maybe 16 people versus just four at the standard round metal table. And we could host even more because we'll put the metal dining set over in the shady corner, maybe as a kids' table. Personally, I prefer the look of a long homey wooden picnic table to a cold metal dining set, which is why I lobbied so hard for it; plus, it can also serve double-duty as a project or work table. The grills will indeed go over by the fence but on a raised platform or a brick or paving-stone surface, along with some kind of prep table. There should still be room on the deck for a reading chair and maybe a hammock off the deck over by the tree. And that, my dears, is what compromise looks like.

(Next up: the new table and some stairs . . .)

Missed the earlier posts in the Rental Backyard series documenting our backyard fix-up? Check out . . .
Part 1: The Tangled Mess
Part 2: Down to Dirt


rental backyard: down to dirt (part 2)

backyard view (July 30, 2015)

After we pulled up all the weeds, Jeff's backyard mess stood out in sharp relief: piles of secondhand wood, pier blocks, an umbrella clothesline, and a stack of shipping pallets all collected for free over months off Craigslist, as well as a couple broken chairs in need of repair and his vintage dining table set and gas grill.

backyard wood piles (July 30, 2015)

He sorted and restacked the wood along the back fence, shifting everything away from where the deck would be. And then he began laying out the heavy concrete pier blocks to work as a foundation for the deck, which would be a low platform unattached to the house.

pier block deck foundation (July 30, 2015)

pier block detail (July 30, 2015)

The pier blocks he'd picked up from a guy in Oregon City who had planned to build a similar structure in his backyard before his landlord nixed the plan. Our own landlord, fortunately, is more laissez-faire, particularly since we're clearly upgrading the property, a nice deck being preferable to a weed patch. Those pier blocks were so weighty I could barely move them even a few inches, so Jeff did all the heavy lifting. I watched, offered moral support, and took photos.

(Build pictures to follow . . .)

Missed the first post in the Rental Backyard series documenting our backyard fix-up? Check out . . .
Part 1: The Tangled Mess


rental backyard: the tangled mess (part 1)

glass patio table with overgrown weeds

After a year living in this rental duplex, my housemate friend, Jeff, decided it was time to fix up the backyard—which was basically a patch of dirt and weeds with potential. The yard directly borders the neighbor's garage on the west side, the back of the house on the south side, and falling-down fences along the north and east sides, with a volunteer tree of some kind parked by the east fence, providing shade and a place for squirrels to hop the roof, stocking up on walnuts from the tree across the street. Jeff had been collecting piles of free wood off Craigslist for months, so the materials were stocked and ready. However, it was hard to see them all clearly amid the jungle of weeds.

old chair, weeds, and used pallets

These photos were snapped before weeding when the backyard looked like something out of Great Expectations, all dusty, derelict, and overgrown. Jeff's patio set is buried somewhere under there, as are a couple random chairs, a grill, an umbrella clothesline, about twenty concrete pier blocks, a stack of shipping pallets, piles of secondhand wood, and a collection of kindling for a future fire pit.

falling-down fence with weeds

But every large project begins with a small first step, which in this case was to pluck all the weeds, the poor, to-me-nameless plants struggling up through the ruins towards the light. Out of destruction, creation. And so we got to work.

(to be continued . . .)


the risk of everything turning pink

pink cosmos

Waiting for surgery, I distract myself with yoga, Doc Martin shows, Elena Ferrante novels, cooking, errands, walks, laundry, gardening, texts, phone calls, e-mails, family reunions, birthday parties—all the usual stuff of life, only even less discriminate. With more time to kill, I'm up for just about anything these days, especially spontaneous socializing.

hanging spider

Spiders hang alone on webs throughout the garden. I feel guilty when brushing into their sticky webs on accident, such intricate invisible little nets, a shame when torn to shreds, though the spiders immediately start rebuilding because, well, there goes dinner. So when I see one of their tiny rolled-up bug meals hung to dry, I feel relieved—all that weaving work for something instead of nothing. From the macro view, life seems nothing more than eating and being eaten, the goal to reproduce and then die like all the salmon swum upriver. And in between we wait with all the actions and inactions of living.


summer heat waves

Clackamette Cove

With the summer off (first unpaid "sabbatical" ever!), I often head riverside. These photos were taken in early July during Portland's second major heat wave, though we've had additional heat waves since with stretches in the 90s and just last week tipping over 100 degrees. In early evenings after the sun has waned, I'll typically stuff a bag with a library book, my phone, my keys, a picnic blanket, and maybe some water, toting it across the river to sit on the high grassy bank overlooking Clackamette Cove on the Oregon City side.

Occasionally, I'll stay long enough to watch the sun drop into the West Hills. Mostly I simply lie under a hat and read, or take a phone call, or just sit with my legs crossed and breathe, in and out, staring out at the water and any cloud formations. I've seen osprey dive for fish and bats flitting among the trees at dusk, ducks congregating near the boat launch, and nutria and humans swimming slowly across the cove (though not, of course, together). The river is where I feel the most peace amid the chaos of life.

dry grasses above Clackamette Cove

seed pods, Clackamette Cove

field of Queen Anne's lace, Clackamette Cove

unknown yellow flower, Clackamas River

sunburned tree leaves, Clackamas River

red bumblebee

Caroline Z. Hurley Hannah throw (aka picnic blanket) with secondhand Kenyan tote

In summers past, I've most used my two thrifted colorful striped cotton picnic blankets. This season, I've been grabbing my Caroline Z. Hurley black linen Hannah throw right off the sofa. Even though it's a now-faded black and thus heat-absorbent, the linen feels cool to the skin and shields my bare legs and arms from the bluff's prickly dry cut grass. For me, even a picnic without food is still a picnic (since I don't know any other word in English for lounging on a blanket in public places). The key is making yourself at home in nature, even with something as simple as a blanket for shelter.

What is your own happy place close to home?

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